It might seem a bit like putting the cart before the horse to focus on branding when many writers at DIY MFA are pre-published. There is a logic here, though, I promise. I attended several talks and panels at ThrillerFest on this very topic and one theme kept coming up again and again. While most authors on the panels admitted that their brand happened either by accident or it evolved over time, they all said the same thing: the best time in your writing career to figure out your brand is at the beginning.
Branding Is not a Formula
On the right, we see the famous definition of a “brand” by David Ogilvy, often called the “Father of Advertising.” I think there’s more to branding than just this definition. Branding is that intangible meaning we associate with a product, a person or a place. When someone or something has a strong brand, we instantly recognize that brand and know immediately what it stands for and what it means.
For example, when we think of New York City, we immediately get a feeling for the place: that buzz of traffic, the lights of Broadway. Even someone who’s never been here knows that it’s the “city that never sleeps.” Yet in the 1980′s when I was growing up in NYC, my beloved city was a much grittier, darker place than it is today. Just watch any 80′s movie that takes place in New York and you’ll see what I mean. NYC has re-branded itself multiple times in during my ife, sometimes by choice and sometimes not. 9/11, for example, had a profound impact on the city and what it means to be a New Yorker. Eleven years after, there is a shift in attitude in this great city. New York seems warmer and the residents seem kinder and more altruistic toward one another than they were before that tragic day.
As you can see, branding is not a formula: it’s emotional reaction, a message, a meaning. In writing, the brand is usually associated either with the author or with one or more of the characters. Why? Because while a logo or tagline might communicate a company message or product to consumers, branding is not just about business. Builidng a brand comes down to trust and by nature, people don’t usually trust “business,” they trust other people. That’s why, all an author has to do to build a brand is to create that trust with the readers.
Like many writers, you might feel overwhelmed by branding. (I know I often do.) It can be stressful, especially when you hear all these experts telling you to do this or that. Build a website! Have a Facebook page! Blog! Tweet! Pin! +1! Stumble! Tumble! Disqus! It’s enough to make any sane person go batty. But here’s the secret:
Branding is not a giant to-do list.
There is only one thing writers need to do and that’s connect with their readers.
Creating that Personal Connection
When it comes to creating my author brand, I’ve developed a mantra: choose one but do it right. When I first started DIY MFA, I tried to do everything and be everywhere at once: the blogsphere, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, YouTube and many other places where I opened accounts and can’t even remember the passwords anymore. Lately, as many of you have probably noticed, my focus has shifted to spotlight this blog, Twitter and Facebook. All the other social media outlets are there for me when I need them but I’ve consciously chosen to dial back my presence on those venues.
Wait, isn’t that completely the opposite of what most social media experts tell authors to do? Aren’t I limiting the number of people who will hear about DIY MFA if I’m not super-active on all social media all the time. The truth is, these experts are probably right. I’m probably missing out on many potential members of my audience by dialing back my participation, but here’s the key: if I spent all my time on social media, I’d have no time for actual writing. And if I don’t write, there’s no reason for me to reach out to readers, so my first priority has to be the work.
Not only that, this summer I’ve decided to step up the quality of my social media interactions. Even after I cut back to three social media outlets, I often still feel like I’m spreading myself thin. I’m guessing you feel the same way too. Sure, I could try to be everywhere at once, but then I wouldn’t be truly present anywhere at all. While I’m still quite active on Twitter, Facebook and this blog, this past summer I’ve made the conscious decision to focus my energy on one area of interaction. My hope is that by focusing my efforts, I can really engage with my audience and form those connections that make the DIY MFA brand go from “business” to something more. For me, my go-to way of connecting with readers is through my newsletter, Writer Fuel.
Back in the beginning of DIY MFA, I resisted the idea of a newsletter. There was much kicking and screaming and gnashing of teeth involved. “You want me to write a whole newsletter every single week?” I remember saying to my mentor. “Are you nuts?” After much coaxing, my mentor managed to talk me down and I decided to do the newsletter for a one-month trial, just to see what happened. That was a year ago.
Now Writer Fuel is my favorite way to keep in touch with all of you. I’m honored that those of you on the list trust me with your email and let me share updates with you each week. To me, that feels like so much more of a connection than just putting a tweet out on the ether. I also absolutely love hearing feedback from all of you! Some of the best suggestions I’ve gotten for DIY MFA have come from readers of the newsletter who emailed me back with ideas.
If you’re not already on the mailing list, you can sign up below. But you don’t have to be on the list to get in touch with me. Just shoot me an email at: gabriela[at]DIYMFA[dot]com and share your thoughts and suggestions. I’d love to hear from you!
OK, I’ve shared my favorite, go-to way of connecting with readers. Now I want to know yours.
Where on the interwebs do you like to hang out? If you had to cut back on social media, what’s the one thing couldn’t do without? Please tell me in the comments or better yet, send me an email!